Most parents will feel a certain amount of anxiety and worry when they have a new baby, no matter if it’s their first or 10th child.
“Some parents may experience mental health challenges they never dreamed they would have,” says By Kruti Quazi, MA, LPC, NCC, CCTP, CDBT, CFTP, and clinical director at Sesh. “New mothers can be especially vulnerable to a variety of mental health afflictions.”
She goes on to highlight that approximately 70 to 80% of all new mothers experience some negative feelings or mood swings during the first few days after giving birth. It’s estimated that 7% to 20% of pregnant women are affected by depression during pregnancy, but women are more likely to develop depression and anxiety during the first year after childbirth than at any other time. “Up to 70% of new mothers experience a mildly depressive reaction, often called ‘the baby blues.’ The baby blues usually include symptoms of anxiety or depression that go away without treatment within a few weeks. However, only 40% of women dealing with perinatal mental health challenges seek treatment.”
Some amount of anxiety and pressure is a normal part of pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting, but when these challenges become especially frequent or particularly intense, they can get in the way of a normal, healthy lifestyle for you and your family.
Symptoms of mental health challenges
According to Quazi, some mental health challenges include a wide range of symptoms and some common struggles she highlights include:
- Extreme anxiety: You may feel overwhelmed and are constantly worrying about the baby or the changes you may be facing with taking care of a newborn.
- Depression or extreme sadness:
Symptoms can include:
- Sad or tearful for much of the time
- Down, hopeless
- Restlessness or feeling fidgety
- Changes in sleep patterns (not connected to baby)
- Moving or speaking slowly
- Anger or episodes of rage
- Loss of interest in things that normally bring you joy
- Recurrent negative thoughts
- Changes in appetite
- Thoughts that the world would be better off without you in it
- Thoughts of hurting yourself
How can you tell whether it’s just sheer exhaustion or depression?
“The list above certainly shows that there is some overlap between the symptoms of depression and the natural exhaustion that occurs from being a new parent. Sometimes the attitude a person has towards life can help clear up which of the two they may be facing,” says Quazi. “If you’re facing some mental health challenges connected to your pregnancy or following your child’s birth, below are some options that you may find helpful.
- Regular Check-ups: “Try to stay up to date with your doctors’ visits. Be sure you have a doctor’s visit scheduled soon after your baby’s birth. Sometimes these mental health challenges may be caused by hormonal changes you are experiencing due to pregnancy and childbirth. Your physician can help you figure out what may be causing some of the symptoms you are experiencing and help you and your baby to stay healthy.”
- Medication: “Sometimes medication may be helpful in alleviating some of the symptoms associated with perinatal depression. It is important to see a psychiatrist if you are pregnant or breastfeeding your baby so that they can assess the options that may work best for you.”
- Support groups: “Others may be experiencing similar challenges and a support group may provide a different perspective, as well as understanding from those going through the same trials and tribulations of parenthood. Sesh, an online group support platform is one resource that offers group support for parents. Other support groups may be available through your local hospital.”
- Meditation or mindfulness practices: “Studies have shown that mindfulness and meditation can help to reduce the symptoms of the stress and anxiety you may be facing as new parents. There are classes and/or apps that you may find helpful to try.”
- Try to set up a daily routine or schedule. “There are many things that are beyond your control as a parent, temper tantrums, etc. but if you start with creating a daily routine, the baby (or as they start growing into toddlers and adolescents) will start following your routine. It can be as simple as trying to wake up and go to sleep around the same time, napping when the children nap, eating healthy meals around the same time, going for a walk every day around the same time. Of course, there may be situations that may come up out of the blue, but if you already have an established routine, things will seem a lot less chaotic because you know what the next step of the day will be in your daily routine.”
- Therapy: “There are therapists who would be able to help you and your partner (if you choose to go together) that can help you come up with some coping mechanisms to help alleviate some of the challenges you are facing. In fact, they may be a neutral party that you can talk to who will listen to you without judgement.”
- Hotlines: “If you are in crisis, are having suicidal thoughts or need some extra support immediately, you can always the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text the Crisis Line – Text HOME to 741741 to connect with a Crisis Counselor.”